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Friday, February 17, 2006

Wait a minute. Someone had to tell you to give TIC a timeout? And I'm the one without a spine?

I am all for sharing advice about parenting, since the process is so demanding and unpredictable and individual. It may take a village to raise a child, but the mantle of discipline lies firmly--and solely--with the parents. Listen to all the opinions you want, but you're the one the kid has to live with and answer to. (You're also the one who needs to teach him not to end sentences with prepositions.)

Frankly, I'm not comfortable if other people, even my friends, discipline my boys. If OneBert gets out of line I feel responsible, and my friends know to come to me because they know I'll be receptive. The problem arises when other parents don't feel the same way, which happens way too often.

Now if a stranger's kid gets out of line--like say, in this circumstance--all bets are off. If someone's kid took a chunk out of my leg with his remote-control car (just how big was this thing, anyway?), and the parent wasn't receptive to my wounds, I would have kept the damn thing, sold it on eBay, and arrived at the playground the next day fanning myself with the cash like Scarlett O'Hara.

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I know you're all for hanging back and watching the caribou lock horns, but come on. Slamming kids in the face with MegaBlocks seems like the perfect time to get involved. This is when you'd either 1) offer some gentle advice to your friends, or 2) get right into the thick of things and end the nasty behavior by taking the blocks away from the offending kid--right in front of your passive parent-friend who stands by and watches it all happen. Silence equals agreement.

You say the life lesson is to show restraint and to let your kids fend for themselves, but I want my kid to know that I'm going to do my best to not let him get mauled and bruised by kids who have learned that no matter how rude or rough or mean they play, no one will stop them or punish them. I know I can't (nor do I want to) control every situation, and I know that there are going to be many times when my parenting style doesn't jive with other parents. That doesn't mean that I'll sit back and let other kids break all the rules at my house, or let my kid partake in unacceptable behavior when we're out at other people's houses.

I want my kids to learn that there are certain ways to behave, no matter where you are or who is around. As they grow they will experiment with their own boundaries and rules, but I hope that they will eventually fall back on this valuable life lesson.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Grow a spine, already. If you can't offer constructive criticism about parenting to your friends--especially if it's because their kid is acting totally inappropriately--then I can't imagine that they are very close friends. I'd rather someone tell me that Toddler in Chief was being a total nuisance, than to just slowly be phased out of social events and to have people talking about me and my kid behind my back.

There have been times when I've bitten my tongue about the behavior of my friend's kid. And there have been a bunch of times when I've chimed in and said, "Hey, you need to give that kid a time-out." When did raising a kid become the complete responsibility of one mom and one dad? I'm all for the "It takes a village to raise a child" point of view. We learn as a collective, and we learn to parent as a collective. It's all give and take and talking and sharing and listening. Just as I appreciated the advice of wise moms who could help me get my kid to latch on better or help me figure out how to nurse lying down, I also appreciated it when my friend told me to start giving TIC time-outs. I was a little hesitant, but she was right. He really needed the boundaries and consequences. And I feel lucky to have a friend that can be so open and honest with me.

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Dispense platitudes all you like, but parenting somebody else's kid is sensitive business. Even the best friendship can take a hit if you say or do the wrong thing.

Last Sunday, after OneBert and his posse spent the day sledding in the Great Blizzard Crab Nebula of '06, we all repaired to a friend's apartment for hot chocolate. The kids played for a while, then Robert's friend Perry crossed the line; he started making guns out of MegaBlocks and slamming kids in the face with them. Perry's mom did nothing. Then, when it was time to leave, Perry threw a huge fit and started slapping his mom in the face. All his mom did was meekly ask him to stop.

Ask him? Are you kidding me?

We've been good friends with Perry's family for almost four years, and we've helped each other out of a lot of tight spots. But the mom doesn't realize that Perry isn't a toddler anymore. He isn't getting any boundaries at home, and he's become a real terror. Luckily, OneBert is hip to this, and he knows to get out of the way when Perry hits the fan. Either Perry will grow out of it (unlikely), or the boys will go to different kindergartens and re-connect during Birthday Season.

The real life lesson is to show restraint, let your child fend for himself, and hang onto your friendships as long as you can. Strangers, on the other hand, are a different story.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Toddler in Chief has a buddy who likes to smack kids with toys and push them down--especially when she thinks no one is watching. And I'm all for disciplining that kiddo as if she were my own. This works because my group of friends has an understanding: when you're watching someone else's kid, rules and consequences still apply. Bad behavior is never okay--even when mom or dad isn't around. At school, at the playground, or at a friend's house, our kids need to listen to and respect the decisions of other adults, so it's a great lesson for them to start learning now.

When you encounter a naughty kid and you don't know the parent or the child, the situation is a little stickier. This past weekend, a kid was wildly navigating his giant remote control truck through a busy strip of people at the park. TIC was scared and my ankle was on the receiving end of poor navigation skills, which resulted in a cut and a nasty bruise. I wanted to take his truck away. But since I didn't know them, I went to the parent with my gripe. Unfortunately, she was not receptive. So TIC got a life lesson: you must watch out for others when you're playing; if you hurt someone, you apologize; if someone is being dangerous--like with the truck--move somewhere else. And that's what we did.

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When new parents start making friends with other new parents, they're thrown together by the fickle finger of concurrent pregnancy. Everything is great at the outset, because all the parents-to-be are nervous and excited, and you bond as a group as you bite your lip and brace for the fundamental life-change.

When the kids get older, you start to see behavioral traits emerge. Some parents are clearly setting boundaries and enforcing them when necessary, and others are letting their kids run amok and promising lame punishments that are never carried out. And you wonder, "How can I be friends with such crappy parents?"

It's a difficult position to be in, because no matter how close you've become and how harrowing the experiences you've shared, the best time to offer unsolicited advice about parenting is NEVER. As a result, the formerly cohesive group becomes a soap opera of dis-invitations and gossip about Whose Kid Did What, because no one has the guts to say, "You know what? You'd be invited to a lot more get-togethers if you explained to your kid that it's inappropriate to constantly punch people in the groin."

To do so is a true test of friendship, one that unfortunately a few of our friendships have failed.

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